Before he even signed in free agency, Ilya Mikheyev was contributing to the Vancouver Canucks.
The speedy winger signed a four-year deal with the Canucks on Wednesday worth $4.75 million per year. Before that, he helped out in their recruitment efforts for the other Russian winger they signed on Wednesday, Andrei Kuzmenko.
"I spoke with Kuzy in Miami," said Mikheyev during a Thursday morning Zoom call. "We were in Miami at the same time and we had some lunch. He asked me about the NHL and he asked me about his options, [the offers] he got. And I tell him Vancouver is the best option for him.
"He thought a lot about Vancouver and another team but it's my opinion for him — I told him Vancouver is the best option for Kuzy."
That's a pretty impressive assist for Mikheyev without even playing a game for the Canucks. Knowing that Kuzmenko was going to be there, along with fellow Russian Vasily Podkolzin, made the Canucks a more comfortable landing spot for him as well. He can help ease the transition for Kuzmenko, which was a bit tough for him in his first year.
"I played two-and-a-half years in Toronto, probably just one Russian guy," said Mikheyev. "When I came in the NHL, just first year, having Russian guys was good because my English was bad. You practice, of course, you speak with guys, in the rink, in the restaurants outside the rink, and it's good for you.
"Now, when you know English better, it is just a bonus when you have Russian guys."
Mikheyev said he grew to appreciate Vancouver as a team and as a city when the Toronto Maple Leafs played them so much during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, when the Leafs and Canucks were in the same division.
"I saw how this team played, I saw the rink and maybe no fans, but — it was my first free agency and it's a long decision," said Mikheyev. "We spoke with my family, with everybody, and Vancouver was the best option. I like the city, I like the team, I like how they built this team."
After playing in Toronto, Mikheyev clearly has no issue playing in a hockey-mad Canadian market. He joked that he knows the meaning of pressure after his time with the Leafs and immediately said that he feels a "responsibility" to play well for fans that are so passionate.
Mikheyev had a breakthrough season last year, scoring 21 goals in just 53 games. He believes that he can continue to score with Vancouver.
"I worked a lot in the summer before last year," said Mikheyev. "I understand more hockey in the NHL, it's more experience. Everything was more easy for me— game, practice — and I feel more comfortable. And, of course, I understand my mistakes."
It helps that he was no longer recovering from an ugly injury where his wrist was sliced open by a skate blade.
"I had two injuries in my first year, first I cut my wrist," he said. "It's tough. It's not easy because you cut tendons...but I understand I needed to just work hard and come back more stronger. Because I'm professional and I want to play."
While Mikheyev has yet to play a full season in the NHL, they have largely been fluke injuries — the sliced wrist, an awkward crosscheck into the boards, and a broken thumb. Hopefully, Mikheyev can avoid similar bad luck with the Canucks.
If so, Mikheyev could be in line for a career year and perhaps pick up a few more assists with Kuzmenko.